11 November 2005

I Am The Terminator

Wow, its taken me some time to realise that, and I owe it to fineartist. (I envy her self control and her self confidence and I urge you to go over there next and big her up, because I don't think she feels very good about it.)

I have acknowledged what I became for a while after a bad first marriage - I have mulled it over and over and stared at it in horrified fascination, hoping that overindulgence would lead to desensitisation. I have (had) packed it away as an unstable period of grief and realisation, and got back to a personal view of myself as timid and unassuming; wishy washy, milk and water and as much good in a fight as the Church women off Little House On The Prairie.

The thing is, after all these years, I still believed I was a wimp.

I was, once, and for too long, but even having physically shrugged that off in my 'bad' period, somehow it settled into my ego, nestled in at the back like some insidious worm. I like being ineffectual, I like the safety and warmth of 'knowing my place' - which is generally somewhere at the back, praying. If anything, it has underlined my inability to cope with confrontation. I denied the middle ground, just to make sure I denied the other extreme, also.

Still there has been a part of me that hoped, that dreamed of being noticeable, and it explains why my eyes light up like a kid at Christmas, when Husband, occasionally, mentions in a matter of fact way that I can be scary when I want to. Gosh, me? Really? Ooh, tell me! What, really really?

I have to stop bewailing that I never had the guts to roar and stand up for myself whilst the disastrous first husband was in my life - that I only expressed and found a taste for all this shocking rage once he was gone. I have to stop thinking of myself as a coward and start realising that all I did was really believe his propaganda - that any rebellion on my part would be (was) met with an eventual punishment far worse.

If that makes no sense then think of schoolyard bullies, where the system is imperfect - the victim could stand tall and 'tell', but knows that the bully would get them back for it, twice as hard and outside school, too. In my first marriage, shutting up and taking it was definitely the safest course of action, but boy, did I surprise myself once the anger was free to vent. I think an essential prerequisite to opening up your potential for monstrous behaviour is to spend some time firmly believing that you could do the wrong thing, or pull the wrong face, and end up dead.

You can laugh now, but by the time he'd finished doing a number on me, I was scared to talk to men, at all. Any sign of friendliness, anything that focussed on me, even a 'How are you?' would have me stunned like a rabbit in car headlights; panicked. It was just unfamiliar and forbidden territory.

I wish I had been bold and brave and practical like fineartist.

Anyhow, the first ever realisation that I had any physical strength or daring at all was this:

He'd gone. He'd taken pleasure in telling me how pathetic I was and how many better women he'd shagged. He'd taken all my Christmas wages from our joint account, and my company liked to pay the end of December wages early, so that was me and two kids absolutely penniless for another five weeks, and he'd blown the lot on going on the pull. In a last act of defiance I had thrown his clothes out of the second floor window and in retribution he had done his laughing best to throw me out after them, breaking my toe.

Days later - full of self pity and fury, I sat on the end of our bed, wailing it all out for a good hour or so, while the kids were in school.

Then I looked up.

There, in front of me, was my reflection, in the full length mirror on the wardrobe door, and my good grief, was it an ugly sight. (Now the movie exists, I can honestly say I was 'doing a Gollum', completely full of myself, totally wallowing in being 'victim', and when I saw it I detested it, I sickened myself.)

Something clicked.

I stood up, took two steps to the wardrobe and lifted off the whole door as if it was a large piece of card, wrenching glue and screws and bolts and fixings and chunks of the wood from the frame without even noticing.

The only thing I saw then was the reflection of my own numbing shock, that the glass hadn't even shattered. There I was, gawping at myself like a moron, with barely two feet between us.

I didn't know I had it in me - I had expected, even in my first experience of truly blind rage, to have to fight with the door for its removal; to have bent and twisted it in the battle and broken the glass. Nope, I won too completely and and this tearstained, sodden, puffy, ugly face was still looking back at me.

The end of this little interaction saw me muttering 'oh shit, oh shit, oh shit' and shuffling toward the bedroom wall, one foot tucked under the wardrobe door as I sought to place it as gently as possible, and save the mirror after all. I got there. I carefully and delicately leaned it against the wall, making sure it was straight.

It thought about it. It actually let me back away two or three steps before deciding, sod it, to crack and fall to the floor in pieces.

Some of you will tell me I was expressing justified anger - its true that I had bottled up so much fury over six or seven years of increasing hell, but unlike fineartist, I never expressed it righteously - I never expressed it to its intended audience.

What I did do, like some kid who has learned an amazing new trick, was realise that I, even I, had the capability to let little things like standards, principles, morals or restraint fly out of the window. I had seen and felt my first husband do that often enough, and now it was my turn. It was electrifying - it turned my worldview upside down.

Destruction is like a high, a rush. The sense of power when, for example, you decide to switch off inhibitions and throw an old fashioned, boxy 26" TV across a room, ripping it from its plug in the process yet still smashing it completely against the opposite wall - well it has its 'wow' factor. It fills you with self confidence, with a sense of being invulnerable. Its says "Ha! Don't fuck with me! I rule!"

After that, in the seconds after anything like that, the mind rushes to validate, to stop you seeing what you did - it grabs at any bullshit available and breathes it in deeply: 'my anger was more important than the TV', 'my anger is more important than what you think of me', 'you werent listening and I had no choice', 'you made me', 'its your fault'.

So there you go. I've been where the wife beaters go, I've been to 'you made me' land.

And if a guy ever, EVER says that to you - take it from me that its total bullshit. What he means is he gets this almost sexual high from being 'the man', the incredible hulk, the untouchable and final authority.

Arrogance and violence are like heroin - they make the real world melt to fit your ego and they take your understanding of your self from 'shit I've really fucked up' or 'I cant cope' straight to 'Who gives a shit'. They are fascinating, and addictive, and a bloody hard habit to break.

I broke it because I wanted to. I broke it by facing what had caused the anger, but also by doing the Jane Fonda workout three times a day while I was glued into fight-or-flight mode (which was months), by knowing how to stack the sofa cushions in a corner so I could kick the shit out of them without damaging them or myself, by finding places I could go to stand and scream from the bottom of my lungs. I broke it by working out that a shitty life is either a drama documentary or a farcical comedy and its way better to laugh like a loony than to kill somebody.

I broke it by finding Husband, a man who innocently dredged up all the triggers, yet who allowed me space to rage and then slowly, step by step, proved that action A didn't have to lead to consequence B; not when you had a good man. Him beginning to frown didn't mean I was going to get thumped. The front of my head knew it, but my subconscious wanted to get the knives out at the earliest opportunity, just in case.

I have one small thing to be proud of - I never tried to hurt a person, even in the middle of the violence rush, in full and evil flood, I only ever took it out on inanimate objects. Edit: There are two. I never got to the point of no return, to the point where I had messed up so completely that there was no going back, the point where what you have done is so awful that all you can do is keep faking it, keep telling yourself you have no emotion, for the sake of your sanity. No, I never got there.

Hiding behind my curtain in the bathroom, now (and thats years later,) is an ornament - a statuette of Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus, that Husband's Catholic mother bought for us when we moved in together. I go and look at it sometimes. Not for any religious reasons, but because, if you look carefully, Joseph's head has been reinforced and stuck back on with Polyfilla. Why the damn thing never smashed to smithereens in the first place is completely beyond me, but now it describes my life, my heart, my family. Slightly different, definitely repaired, but still all there. It describes hope.


doris said...

Cheryl! That is an incredible analysis of anger and rage. A very intelligent approach to what is a hugely passionate and mind blowing feeling. You see, it is your clever brain being able to think about these things and open up the strands.

I can identify with bits in what you say. I loved the mirror door incident and could see it as a sketch in some film. It is not really funny but it does sound it! The way you go mad at it underestimating your strength and then trying to save the heavy bugger, get it somewhere safe for it to just spontaneously combust (or whatever it is called for glass!).

I can also identify with the Gollum look!

I can also identify with that moment of realisation that this was it and that you weren't going to take any more. Different situation entirely but that moment of realisation is significant and memorable. Like a first kiss!!!

And then there is this thing about you seing yourself as a weakling or inconsequential. You are a very powerful woman Cheryl and I have the feeling that you give respectful vibes you are not to be messed with!

But you (or anyone) do not have to be famous and rich to be powerful. Just don't underestimate yourself.

Knowing your place reminds me of the Desiderata.... there will always be those greater or lesser than ourselves. Quite simple really. Entirely respectful and demands respect for all.

Thanks for sharing these deeper aspects.

Cheryl said...

Thank you Doris.
Coming from the only blogfriend that I am realistically likely to ever meet, that means a lot.
These arent thoughts that I would express in the real life, because they could be perceived as a barrier (horror - even a boast or a warning). I wouldn't choose to let them taint the present or confuse people, by bringing them up.

Host of Spirits said...

As someone who has suffered the same experiences I am highly impressed that you were brave enough to put that into your blog.

I think if I ever dared to try to express my feelings on my blog it would bring the whole internet crashing down. Maybe I should go look for a wardrobe door lol

Girl - you rock !

Cheryl said...


Believe me - kicking the poop out of a pile of pillows is just as therapeutic and, erm, less noticeable the morning after ;-)

zilla said...

This one -- save it. Honest, intimate, well-written, and the symbol at the end...priceless.

Cheryl said...

From you Zilla - the ultimate compliment. Thanks.

Oh P.S. Doris - the door - comedy vs documetary - you can see how it would fit in either one. It would be hysterically funny to me if it had been someone else doing it and my personal pride/cringe-factor wasnt involved!

Ally said...

Destruction is like a high, a rush.
So true. I HAVE been past the point of no return. There is a sick kind of rush from having the person who has been persecuting you, bullying you, threatening you and generally making your life hell for five years cowering on the stairs while you kick and kick and kick him and he begs you to stop.

One of the reasons I left in the end was that I was starting to be scared of myself; I'd been scared of him for years.

Good post. It's resonated with me :/.

Kim said...

And you have the nerve to claim that rot about your writing not measuring up to mine? I write about imaginary conversations with God and the joys of farting. Are you insane?

THIS was beautifully written. THIS should be published in women's magazines the world over.

I don't believe that you were a wimp. I think you were brave and took the time neeeded to effect the change you knew had to happen, and did it in a way that worked.

Loved this post.

Cheryl said...

Oh Ally!
I wont belittle your judgement of yourself by imagining ways it could have been beyond your control, not your fault,.... but.....
You did the wrong thing to the right guy. You didn't go spitting fire at every poor innocent sod who got too close after the fact. Thats a lot to be proud of.

Cheryl said...

I keep tellin ya - even your comments make me speechless!
Thank you!

Milt Bogs said...

I know my place! :(

Writer Mom said...

Sending this to my friend. She NEEDS to read this.
Incredible. Thank you.

fineartist said...

Cheryl thank you for sharing this piece with us. I am so proud of you that you were able to survive and extract yourself from that situation.

We all develop our own coping mechanisms, depending on what we have in front of us to deal with. Yes? Yours was to survive physically, and then terminate the situation. Good on ya! Mine was to get even, and then end it. I allowed my situation to progress to the stage of perpetual, WTF, and I DON’T GIVE A RIP, ANYMORE.

You found your way out with greater haste. You didn’t waste precious years locked in a battle of let’s see who’s better at being a creep. Then again, your situation appears to have been much more dangerous too. I am sorry.

You know I think a lot of it has to do with our natures. I am laid back and tolerant by nature, and I would venture to guess that you are too. It was not in my nature, or I didn’t believe that it was, to be confrontational. I tended to fear confrontation, fear losing control, fear another persons’ wrath. Not so much now. No. Now I change things I don’t like, sometimes that requires confrontation, and I’m okay with that.

Another truth that really hit my center that you wrote about, watching THEM for years acting out their lack of emotional maturity. Watching them behave insensitively and inappropriately, and then something snaps, and you think WTF, I’m not scared of him. You wisely left, I stayed around to fight. I played the game, instead of cutting my losses and folding. I wish that I had had the self confidence to end it sooner, but I am thankful that I decided to change things when I did.

I have come to believe that we are all where we are meant to be at the time we are there.

Chez, I feel your understanding and welcome it. These bonds that we develop with others who have experienced similar situations--living hell--they are strong and warm. Omg Chez, we’ve BONDED. I’m crazy mad about you chicky….You are undoubtedly supercalafragalistic! Lori

Cheryl said...

Oh wow.

Milt - you always know the perfect thing to say.

Mommy - I'm very proud of that and you're very welcome! Let me know if it helps?

Fine artist - gosh, stuck for words. Huge hugs!

I never thought that spilling all this would leave me with a huge grin on my face today - thanks, everybody!

Badaunt said...

Cheryl, don't kick yourself over being weak. We are all weak, and that's OK. We get there in the end.

Understanding this is the breakthrough that REALLY helped me a couple of years ago when I got to see (some of) my family again after x years of them not having anything to do with me. When I heard that they wanted to see me, I talked to The Man about it.

"I want to see them, but I'm frightened," I confessed to him. "What if I can't cope? I know they'll want me to go back to the church, and I don't want to, and I won't, but I'm so weak with them. I love them, and way back then it always made me go all weepy and pathetic when they tried to talk me into it. It's horrible. I'm scared I'll lose everything I've learned, and turn into that weak, frightened, pathetic, guilty person again."

The Man thought about it.

"But you won't go back, right?"


"Then what are you worried about? It doesn't matter if you cry. It doesn't matter if you get emotional. If it's the easiest way to deal with it, cry as much as you like. As long as you know you won't go back all the other stuff doesn't matter."

It was like all the doors blew open in my head. I'd always been ashamed of the way they made me behave - all sad and pathetic and crying and feeling guilty. Now I understand that it didn't matter. The end result was that I DIDN'T DO WHAT THEY WANTED.

The end result of your first marriage was that it ended! You put up with it for a while, and then you ended it. You were strong. Under that 'weakness' you were always strong. You were doing what you thought you needed to do to survive, and then you didn't just survive, you thrived. You got over it. He probably never got over his behaviour - no doubt he's still doing it.

(The funny thing is that after understanding that it was all right to be weepy and pathetic, I didn't need to be. I was perfectly normal. I FELT perfectly normal. That had never happened before, and felt like a triumph.)